This is a joint post with Julia Barmeier.
In a little-noticed move in January, private military contractor DynCorp bought 100% of the shares of international development contractor Casals & Associates (the value of this acquisition was not disclosed). DynCorp says it plans to integrate Casals & Associates into its International Global Stabilization and Development Solutions division. In 2007, CGD research highlighted the Pentagon's ever-expanding role in the development space. In the administration's 2010-2011 budget proposal, 20% of the 2011 Department of State and Agency for International Development (USAID) budget is slated for "securing frontline states" (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan). The DynCorp-Casals merger suggests a blurring of the line between development and defense in the private sector, as well.
Should we be worried?
On one hand, there are good reasons this trend makes people in the development community feel queasy. Integrations of this nature--whether public or private--may erode the distinction between civilians and combatants. For example, what happens when unarmed development project managers and heavily armed private security providers work under the same company brand? How will local people respond to a company employed by both USAID and the U.S. military? And how will these very different branches of the U.S. government coordinate their work with DynCorps-Casals and other private military contractors/development service providers?
On the other hand, there are some clear advantages to the new approach. If development operations cannot take place without a significant security presence, especially in fragile states, housing both programs under one roof probably makes logistical sense and may offer cost savings as well. DynCorp's emphasis on law enforcement training and support, security services, and weapons removal and abatement, are complementary to Casals & Associates' focus on post conflict recovery and governance. Their merger may induce greater communication, too, between the people running these programs; something that many in development community believe is necessary in post-conflict situations.
We doubt, however, that the aim of the 3D strategy was to induce consolidation of this nature, particularly not in the contracting sector. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has called for more resources to be directed toward "soft power tools", indicating that DoD doesn't really want to be in the development space. Nor does the Pentagon want to bring all foreign affairs capacities under its belt. In her recent speech at CGD, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton specifically made a point of wanting to scale back private contractors by bringing much of this capacity in-house at USAID. Furthermore, some private military contractors (notably Xe, formerly Blackwater) don't have the cleanest reputations. Neither does DynCorp.
A key question we are exploring in our Fragile States Program is: Where does personal security end and human security begin? In other words, how and when should outside actors in conflict and post-conflict situations transition from providing mere physical protection to focusing on the longer-term human development needs? And what are the benefits and disadvantages to blurring the line between these two areas? As the DynCorp-Casals merger suggests, perhaps we should no longer be thinking of activities in the defense and development space as discrete events, but rather as a continuum where issues of human security, poverty reduction and economic growth are simultaneously being addressed.